THE BATAVIA HISTORIAN

Volume Forty

No. 2 

 

1999


The Bridges of Batavia

 

A 1926 newspaper article stated: "Since Batavia is growing ... we need another bridge. It should be located either at the south or north edge of the city. The large amount of traffic now across the Wilson St. Bridge is proof of the fact ... The matter should be agitated."

 

And now, 73 years later, the matter is still being agitated. Batavia has a problem that is familiar to any town that straddles a river: Bridges can be a bottleneck. As anyone who has tried to get from one side of Batavia to the other during rush hours knows, the traffic tie-ups are becoming increasingly frustrating.

 

Further, as Mayor Schielke has been stressing, the present bridge over the Fox River, built in 1911, has deteriorated badly and will need to be rebuilt within a very few years.

 

This, he points out, calls for a second bridge since it will be impractical to use the existing one during its rebuilding. So, there is ample reason for agitation. All this and the fact that a new bicycle bridge has just been built between the foot of State Street on the east side of the Fox River and the municipal parking lot at Houston Street on the west have brought the subject of bridges to the forefront, leading us to think that a look at the history of our bridges would be timely perhaps not the page-turner that The Bridges of Madison County was a few n years ago, but still interesting.  

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As our older readers know, through most of its history Batavia had two bridges over the Fox River. The course of the Fox River shown in the aerial view of central Batavia, taken about 1940, was much the same as it had been one hundred years earlier, and it remained unchanged until the 1960s.

 

The present municipal center, the old post office, the buildings along Shumway Avenue, and the east half of Swanson True Value Hardware were actually on an island in the Fox River, with the west channel of the river, known as the pond, to their west.

 

Until the early 1960s when the pond was filled from First Street to Houston Street, providing the land that MacDonald's, part of the Harris Bank, and part of the Batavia Shopping Plaza now occupy, two bridges were required. The main one, always lo­cated at the site of our present bridge, 'crossed the east, or main, channel of "the river.

 

The other bridge crossed the pond. The first east side bridge was built in 1837. Paid for by subscription, not by taxes, the wooden structure was built by Howard Brothers of St. Charles. Because the piles could not be driven deeply into the stone underlying the bed of the river, this bridge, like many of the earlier bridges along the Fox River, was washed out during the first strong spring flood, and it was replaced in 1844 by a limestone bridge. We do not know whether this bridge's foundation went any deeper than the wooden bridge's, but we do know that it did not long survive the recurring spring floods.

 

A year earlier in 1843, Joel McKee, his brother-in-law James Risk, James Latham and a few others built a bridge from the north end of the island to the west bank, and a foot bridge was built across the dam to the east river bank near Lathem Street. (It is possible, even likely, that the street was named after James Latham, but the difference in spelling is unexplained.) 

 

These, too, suffered from spring floods, but the dates of their destruction and rebuilding are not known. We can see a bridge from the north end of the island to the west bank in a 1869 bird's eye view; however neither it (or successors) nor a foot bridge across the dam has existed within the memory of present-day residents.

 

After part of the 1844 east side bridge was washed away, another bridge of stone was built in 1857 -- one with six arches, wooden railings and plank walk that was the pride of Batavia. People thought that they now had a bridge, built at a cost of $9,000, that no spring freshet would budge, but they were proved wrong that very year when part of it was destroyed by a gigantic ice jam. It was reconstructed immediately and lasted until 1911, when the present bridge replaced it.

 

At the same time (1857), according to John Gustafson's original Historic  Batavia, there was "construction of the embankment for a roadway to be a part of West Wilson Street leading up to the new east side bridge."

 

It is probable that what was called an embankment, which we can see in a 1869 bird's eye view, was an earthencauseway across the pond, with one or more culverts to permit the flow of water from the north end of the pond to the south. There is no information available on what, if anything, was there before the embankment, but we cannot help thinking that some means of crossing the pond, other than going down to First Street, which crossed the pond's outlet into a millrace, must have been available earlier.

 

The pond's early history is, itself, rather obscure. Undobetedly a west channel of the Fox River existed from when Batavia was first settled, but it was probably small and sluggish. As John Gustafson wrote in a column, "The Batavia Historian," in 1960, "the late Frank Smith said that the pond was originally a slough.

 

When this was cleared out as a resevoir for water power for the paper mill [probably in the 1850s], his father, E. S. Smith built the terraces back of their home with the excavations. "his home was on the site of the former Avenue Motors building on the southeast corner of Batavia Avenue and Huston Street.

 

In any event, in 1876 a West Wilson Street bridge was built across the pond, to replace the embankment.

 

In 1911, the old stone bridge, which had served Batavia for over half a century, was condemned. As the Feb­ruary 9, 1911, Batavia Herald said, "It is not safe to let it stand longer than this winter without extensive repairs. .. estimated to cost at least $6,000."

 

While it was being torn down, stone by stone, and the new bridge was being built, a temporary wooden bridge served the East Wilson Street traffic. The city council found it neces­sary to enact an ordinance regulating speed on the temporary bridge. Weight was limited to five tons, and the ordinance further stated that it was unlawful to stop or stand so as to cause "congestion of traffic."

 

On July 6, the Herald issued a warning: "Mayor Geiss and City Marshall Monahan served another and final notice on the general public that all fast driving of teams, single rigs, automobiles and motorcycles must be stopped on the temporary wooden bridge," with a penalty for any violations.

 

The present three-arched, concrete bridge, was built at a cost of $30,500. The contractor was C. J. Ekman of Batavia, who sublet the project to the McCarthy Construction Co. Upon its completion, the December 13, 1911, Herald reported: "Mayor Geiss and the State officials were the first pedestri­ans to walk across the new bridge, and the honor of the first vehicle which crossed the new bridge after it had been officially opened goes to the American Express company." Even the most modern structures, however, suffer from changing needs and the passage of time.

 

By 1957 with the growth of the city, the bridge had become a bottleneck on the city's only river-crossing street, and it was wid­ened from 42 feet to 48 feet. In the early 1960s, the pond was filled in from Houston Street to First Street, making land available for de­velopment in downtown Batavia.

 

The filling had commenced, with the par­cel on which the Batavia Shopping Plaza stands already completed, when the old livery stable across the street, situated where the downtown Harris Bank now stands, caught fire. Heat from the fire partially destroyed the abandoned railroad depot to the west (already scheduled for demoli­tion), and with this the remaining por­tion of the pond between Wilson and Houston was ready to be filled. The material required to accomplish this came from a quarry in North Aurora.

 

The old West Wilson Street bridge did not need to be demolished since it was covered by the fill. Until the last repaving of Wilson downtown, Bill Wood tells us, the bump where the old bridge was --or rather is --could still be detected.

 

The year 1984 marked the 100th birthday of Monsignor William J. Donovan, beloved by Batavians of all faiths (see "Batavians I Have Known" in this issue). To mark the event, the city council renamed the Wilson Street Bridge the Monsignor William Donovan Bridge. We assume that this name will be perpetuated in the reno­vated bridge that we hope to see, along with a second bridge, in the next few years.

 

1. Reported in Jim Hanson's "Paving n and Repaving -- Batavia Streets" in the April, 1997, Historian.

2. Much of the information in this story has come from Little Town in a BigWoods by Marilyn Robinson and JohnGustafson's Historic Batavia by Marilyn Robinson and Jeffery D. Schielke.

 

Both are available for purchase at the Depot Museum and the Batavia Park District.

 

In addition, Marilyn Robinson provided newspaper clippings and pictures from her files, and our Historian, Bill Wood, provided a needed perspective with a walking tour around the perimeter of the former pond.

 


A SWEDISH'" AMERICAN HERITAGE
An Extract from the History of The John Peter Peterson -Justina Amalia Anderson Family


Anyone who moves to Batavia soon discovers the complex interfamily relationships of our many citizens of Swedish descent. Indeed one who makes disparaging comments about anyone in the community risks offending some listener who turns out to be a relative.

 

That becomes readily apparent to anyone fortunate enough to read the history of his family that member James Edward ("Ed") Peterson has com­piled. The following story touches on some of the highlights of that history. Those of our readers with a Swedish heritage will find the full story (approximately 70 pages), which is available for research at the Depot Museum, particularly inter­esting.

 

Those with a bent for genealogy will be impressed with the fruits of Ed's labors, And we hope that reading this will lead readers to furnish their family histories to the Depot Museum, where Marilyn Robinson is developing a data base for this important part of our history.

 

Perhaps yours will not be as elaborate as Ed's (few are), but even a generation or two of family history will be gladly received.

 

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On May 20, 1896, John Peter Peterson married Justine Amalia Anderson of Batavia at her home. This union, which produced six children, of whom Ed Peterson was the youngest,is the nexus, the connecting point, ofthis story.

 

From here, we can look bothbackward and ahead.John's son, member Ed Peterson,has traced his Peterson ancestors, alloriginally from Sweden, back as faras 1698. The results of his genealogicalsearch of his Anderson forbears extends back to 1793. A mere glance through successive generations o fboth families with such names as Nilsson, Jonsdotter, Arvidsdotter, Stephanson, Bengtsson and Torstensdotter is fascinating.

 

Knowing, however, how difficult it is to trace ancestry where surnames remain unchanged, we can hardly imagine the problems under the patrynomic system when surnames changed each generation. This system had become unfashionable by the second half of the 1800s, when many families adopted "frozen" or permanent family surnames.

 

The Peterson Line John (born Johan Petter) was born October 2, 1866, at the parish of Kungsater, Hepsborg or Elfsborg Lan, West Gotland, Sweden, to Gustaf Peterson and Edla Britta Jonsdotter.

 

Gustav Peterson, born September 19, 1835, at Solberga, married Edla Britta Jonsdotter on June 16, 1860. She was born August 15, 1837, at Kungsater. Besides John, the marriage of Gustav Peterson and Edla Britta Jonsdotter

produced three children who lived to maturity: Elemina (1862), Augusta (1864) and Gerda Emelia (1879).

  

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In 1883 at the age of 48, Gustav came to the United States from Sweden with his wife, Edla Britta, and their four children, settling on Water Street in Batavia.

 

Having learned the blacksmith trade in Sweden, Gustav opened a blacksmith shop on the east side of Batavia Avenue, about midway between First Street and Main Street. In 1897 he moved the business into a building at the rear of his home at 14 South Jackson Street, and his son, John, worked with him until 1904.

 

Edla Britta died in 1912, and from that time until his death in 1925 Gustav and his daughter Gerda shared the home on South Jackson Street. He retired from his blacksmith work a year prior to his death. Daughter Elemina married farmer John B. Anderson (also born in Sweden) and lived at 29 Commercial (now North Harrison) Street until her death in 1941.

 

Among their six children was Victor, the father of member Clifford Anderson, both of whom ran a hardware store in Batavia for many years. Daughter Augusta married August Swanson, who was born in 1858. He was employed first at the Barker Quarry and later with the City of Batavia. Member Marilyn Phelps is a granddaughter of August and Augusta Swanson.

 

The third daughter, Gerda Emilia, began teaching piano at the early age of sixteen and played the organ at Bethany Lutheran Church for over fifty years.

 

In 1973 at age 94, she died at the Four Seasons Rest Home in Au­rora. The Anderson line unlike John Peterson, Justina Amalia ("Molly") Anderson, his wife, was born in the United States (in the "Irish patch" of east Batavia), to An­drew (born Anders) Isaakson Ander­son and his wife, Anna Stina Andersdotter in 1875.

 

Andrew, the son of a farmer and shoemaker, Isak Anderson, and his wife, Johanna Katarina Pettersdotter, first married Karolina Gustava Johansdotter in Ryet, Sweden, in 1860; Karolina died seven years later, ­leaving him with a daughter, Emelie Charlotta.

 

Later in 1867 Andrew mar­ried Anna Stina Andersdotter at Olmevalla. She was the daughter of Andreas Olsson and his wife, Anna Lena. They had two children in Swe­den, John Alfred (1868) and Hilma Karolina (1873), before emigrating to America in 1873. After a few months in Quebec, they came to Batavia and initially made their home on the east side. Three daughters were born in Batavia: Justina Amalia (1875), Alida 'Josefina' (1878) and Clara Olivia (1881).

 

Andrew began work as a tailor's apprentice at the age of twelve. Having mastered the trade at age eighteen, he worked as a tailor for the rest of his life. After coming to Batavia, he was employed for the next eight years in the tailor shop of A. P.Anderson. He then formed a partnership with J. E. Wallen and started business in the Buck Building at First Street and Batavia Avenue. After three years, Andrew became the sole proprietor and in 1893 moved to the second floor of the newly built Anderson Building at the corner of Wilson Street and Batavia Avenue.

 

The family moved to 219 (now 527) First Street, where they lived from 1890 to 1908. They then moved to 31 South Jackson Street, where they lived at the time of Andrew's death in 1914. Anna Stina continued to live there until about 1922, when she moved to 182 Main Street with her son John Alfred and his second wife, Clara Randall.

 

As reported in the Batavia Herald, July 21, 1933, "John Alfred Anderson, Mayor of Batavia for the past two years, passed away suddenly at his home ... following an illness of just two days. The Mayor had been on a two weeks' vacation from his duties at Mooseheart, where he was in charge of the barber shop and also Instructor in Barbering in the Vocational School and was to return to his duties at the 'Child City' on Monday morning."

 

In 1895, Andrew's and Anna Stina's daughter Hilma, who had been born in Sweden, married a Swedish Lutheran minister, John Julius Younggren, also born in Sweden. She died in Orlando, Florida, in 1958. Daughter Alida Josefina, born in Batavia, married John August Anderson, who farmed north of Elburn for a number of years. She died in 1926. Clara Olivia, the other daughter, married Delbert Metz, who farmed north of Elburn and the property now occupied by the Campana building. She died in 1968.

 

Peterson/Anderson Family

 

After arriving in Batavia from Sweden in 1883, John was employed by the Newton Wagon Works and assisted in the operation of the blacksmith shop his father had begun. In order to learn the English language, John studied at the old First Methodist Church building (now the ButtreyWolfe-Mamminga Insurance Agency). He was naturalized in 1888.

 

Justina Amalia ("Molly"), who graduated from the West Batavia Public (High) School in 1892, attended Augusta College, receiving a diploma in the shorthand department of the business college. John's and Molly's wedding was held at her parents' home on May 20, 1896.

 

In 1904, John bought the "entire set of blacksmith tools, machinery stock on hand, old irons, forges, and work benches" from blacksmith Fred Hanson. At this time, the family of John and Molly included four children: Edna Isabel (1897), Ralph Norman (1899), John Roland (1901) and Mary Evelyn (1903). They moved that year to LaFox, Illinois, and lived in the house at the northeast corner of the intersection of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway tracks and LaFox Road. The blacksmith shop was located a short distance south. During the stay in LaFox, two children were born: Alice Charlotte (1908) and James Edward ("Ed") (1912).

 

The family returned to Batavia in 1913 and a year later moved to the house at 24 South Jefferson Street. When Molly died in 1916, daughter Edna, age 19, assumed responsibility, along with her father, for raising the family.

 

John became a foreman at the Emerson-Brantingham Company, successor of the Newton Wagon Works, and later was employed as a blacksmith at the Appleton Manufacturing Company in Batavia and the Howell Foundry in Geneva and later in St. Charles. He retired from the Howell Company in 1942 at age 76. He died in 1952.

 

John and Molly were devoted members of Bethany Lutheran Church until their deaths. On Christmas morning, it was the practice for many years to have an early morning service in Swedish for the older members of the church. This began at 5:00 a.m. John told of operating a railroad hand pump car to come from La Fox to attend this service. In 1887, only a few years after arriving from Sweden, John had participated in the laying of the cornerstone of the church in 1887, and he also took part in laying the new cornerstone in 1949. With his son Ed, he watched from his second floor bedroom at 24 South Jefferson Street when the old steeple was toppled to make way for the new church building.

 

Edna Isabel, the eldest daughter (and source of the list of Swedish nicknames that has appeared from time to time in the Historian), married Carl Henry Oleson of Aurora. One of the Oleson children is member Molly Ann, married to James E. Hubbard of Hubbard's Home Furnishings in Batavia. Edna died in 1966.

 

Ralph Norman, who taught piano and organ, was the organist at several churches, including the Geneva Congregational Church for over 25 years. He was married to Svea Victoria Peterson; they had a daughter, Carol Giertz of Geneva. Ralph was active in the Batavia community, srving on the library board. He died in 1975.

 

The next son, John Roland was employed in the Bridge Engineering Department of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway until his death in 1958. He was reputed to know the location and number of every bridge on the railroad.

 

Daughter Mary Evelyn, an accomplished seamstress, married Harold Markuson of Batavia in 1930. They had three children: John Harold (married to Constance Ward of Batavia), Richard Edward (married to Elaine Zabiak of Chicago) and Julie Marie (married to Allan Beckstrom of St. Charles. Mary died in 1976.

 

Daughter Alice Charlotte married Dale Whitney Taylor of Grover, Colorado, in 1929. They had two daughters, Gay Jolley, Chamblee, Georgia, and Molly Christensen, Culver, Oregon. Alice died on her birthday in 1996.

 

Ed Peterson, who produced the genealogy from which this story was taken, married Mary Bailey of Batavia in 1938.

 

Both are charter members of the Society and life-long residents of" Batavia.

 


A History of Batavia's Immanuel Lutheran Church

 

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From the 100th anniversary booklet, A Century of Grace - An Eternity of Glory, with no changes of wording except as indicated by brackets.

 

Because of space limitations, occasional sentences and a number of paragraphs have been omitted. Anyone who wishes to read the complete booklet may arrange to do so at the Depot Museum or, we are sure, at Immanuel Lutheran Church.

 

The information in the "Afterward" comes from a brief history issued by the church in 1998.  

 

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Records show that the Rev. Ernest Buhre came to Batavia from Aurora in 1854 to conduct the first service in a home. The Charles Hense family moved to Batavia in 1855. Pastor Buhre baptized two of their children and performed the marriage of one girl, Mrs. Dora Berberich. Mrs. Berberich continued to be a member of the Immanuel congregation until her death in 1935 at the age of 91 years.

 

A number of our [members at the time of the 100th anniversary in 1982] are descendants of the Charles Hense family. Family names of other children baptized from 1856 to 1862 by Pastor Buhre included Pipping, Schimmelpfennig, Geist, Brandenburg and Wilke.

 

When Pastor Buhre left Aurora in 1862, Pastor Baumstark served the German Lutherans in Batavia for two years. He baptized one child, Caroline Wilke, a sister of Mrs. Elizabeth Hohenstein, who also was a life-long member of Immanuel. Many German families arrived in Batavia in the 1860s. These included the K. Leipolds, the C. Schultzes, the K. Pammlers and the C. Biehfelds.

 

After Pastor Baumstark left, the Rev. John Strieter became pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Aurora, and served the German Lutherans in Batavia. He baptized seven children and buried one girl in Batavia, records show. As the number of German Lutherans grew, it was not possible to have a service in a home, so they were held on the third floor of [what is the former First Chicago bank at Wilson Street and River Street], in the old Baptist church and in the Christian Church [now Kon Printing, on East Wilson Street.

 

Pastor Feiertag [who arrived in Aurora in 1869] took advantage of having the railroad from Aurora to Batavia. He had parishioners from St. Paul's Lutheran church pump him to Batavia on a hand car whenever the weather was good. Imagine having your pastor arrive and step from the open hand car with his white collar and dark hat, Bible in hand. Yet, for the people of Immanuel, it was a chance to have more frequent pastoral visits. When the weather was bad, members of St. Paul's or the Batavia German Lutherans would drive the pastor to and from Aurora in a horse and buggy. New names that appeared on church records in the 1870s were C. Strobel, F. Eicksmann, F. Schuldt, C. Miller, F. Nurnberg, C. Groener and W. Schultz.

 

Pastor Walter Krebs succeeded Pastor Feiertag in Aurora in 1879. He would be the pastor who guided the Batavia Lutherans in organizing as "The First German Evangelical Lutheran Immanual Congregation of Batavia in the State of Illinois." This momentous decision came on Oct. 12, 1882. Certainly, those organizing men must have felt uncertain about their ability to maintain a church organization, but we can imagine that the Holy Spirit overcame their earthly fears and gave them faith to proceed. Those who signed the constitution were Pastorw. Krebs, W. Wilke, F.Schuldt, C. Leipold, F. Nurnberg, W. Schultz, H. Koepke, H. Wilke, H. Bullinger, C. Miller, C. Strobel, C. Groener and F. Pahnke. Pastor Krebs was also instrumental in the erection of Immanuel's first church building. The lot where the [sanctuary until 1986 stood on Webster Street] was purchased in 1887.

 

On Sept. 2, 1888, the cornerstone of the first church was laid. Pastor Feiertag returned to give the sermon, and the members joined in joy Immanuel Lutheran Church 1961 and thanksgiving. That first small church cost $1 ,289.76. Pastor Fricke [who became the part time pastor in 1894] was a busy pastor. He taught parochial school in West Chicago and preached there on Sunday mornings, then journeyed to Batavia to preach in Batavia in the afternoon.

 

Under Pastor Fricke's guidance several things were accomplished: Quarterly voters meetings were held, the church interior was decorated and the building was first insured in 1894. In 1895, Immanuel Lutheran joined the Missouri Synod. In 1900, it was a new century. While the world celebrated, Immanuel adopted a new custom n letting men and women sit together in church. Until this time, men sat on one side of the church, women on the other. Immanuel Lutheran still did not have a resident pastor. That was not to happen for two more years n in 1902 when Pastor Fricke was called to Aurora. That was the year the voters decided the time had come when Immanuel could afford its own resident pastor. They called Pastor Burkhardt and asked him also to teach a parochial school. Pastor F.G. Miessler [who was called shortly thereafter] also served a new mission that had begun at St. Charles. He preached there every two weeks.

 

It is interesting to note that the mission grew into St. Mark's Lutheran Church. Batavia [by 1912] was becoming a prosperous community. Its windmills, manufactured in two large plants'on the banks of the Fox River, were being shipped around the world. It was a town of many churches, and a town (to be continued)